Nov 15, 2019

Inside ‘Yesterday’s Chonies’

Photo courtesy of Yesterday’s Chonies

Booty-shaking brass music and psychedelic trans-punk are two descriptions that members of the Fresno-based band Yesterday’s Chonies use to describe their music. Those elusive sounds and unconventional tunes are played by the seven-member group, or as tuba player Glenn Tozier puts it, “band nerds who have said ‘f**k the world.’”

In combination with Tozier, Yesterday’s Chonies is comprised of washboard player Becky Asami, tambourine player, volcalist and dancer Amber Fargano, baritone horn player David Gomez, bass drum and cymbal player Pierre Jauretche, baritone sax player Aron Oblath and the newest member Gino Hernandez on alto saxophone.

Formed in August 2008, Yesterday’s Chonies began playing behind art galleries and in alleys around Fresno, embracing instruments more fit for a marching band (four of the group’s members met in the Fresno State Bulldog Marching Band.)

Now performing at the likes of the Fresno Metropolitan Museum of Art & Science and heading to Seattle next year for the radical marching band festival Honk! Fest West, the band still cites their ArtHop performances at Studio Itz as some of their favorites.

The well-known group is supported by what Asami describes as their Fresno niche of artists, activists and musicians. In a recent meeting with six of the bandmates at Café Revue in the Tower District, three separate customers greeted the band, often with the affectionate “What up Chonies?”

How do you come up with a name like Yesterday’s Chonies?
Gomez: Drinking.
Asami: No, we’re a straight-edged band.
Tozier: That’s a joke.

The straight-edged or the drinking?
Tozier: The straight-edged. Gomez: There’s an element of party in the band. What do you think about when you think of chonies, you know? There’s a whole variety of things.

And, if they are from yesterday, somebody was partying hard…
Gomez: Exactly.
Asami: It implies a 48-hour party, at least.
Tozier: I think we’re also, to some degree, eluding to the fact that we’re playing instruments that aren’t necessarily popular at this moment of time to make the type of music we’re making. “Yesterday’s Chonies” is kind of like, we’re making something out of something used and discarded.

Would you describe the band as acoustic? A lot of the instruments you can pick up and play wherever.
Tozier: Nothing is electric.
Asami: We actually put everything on a bike and ride this bike around.
Gomez: We’re 100 percent bike mobile.
Tozier: If we have a show in town, we bike there. We have a big tricycle we can load up. One bike for all the instruments and then everyone else rides their bike along with it. Like on Art Hop, we’ll go out and play four or five different places. Just hop on our bikes and go the next one. It makes the whole evening so much freer.

So you sort of camp out and play whatever you want?
Gomez: That’s how the band started, we were guerrilla like that. We never really booked shows, we just sort of showed up at different places. Because we were on our bikes, we could disperse if we needed to.

What was the link to go from playing wherever you wanted to being booked at festivals and The Met?

Tozier: People just started asking us.
Asami: We were expecting to be chased away from most of the places, but the opposite kind of happened.

What do you cite as influences of the band?
Orblath: Drinking.
Gomez: Soviet Red Army Choir, Middle Eastern music, North African Rai music, the blues.
Asami: Gogol Bordello.
Tozier: Definitely American marching band music, Norteño music.

Do you write your own music?
Fargano: Yes. Though, we do have a few songs that feature other songs we admire.
Asami: Like some good Tom Waits.

What is the inspiration behind the lyrics and the music?
Gomez: Fresno is a hard place to live if you’re an artist or musician. It’s kind of a happy sorrowfulness, I think.
Tozier: It’s a little tongue-in-cheek.
Orblath: We kind of play what we like to play. It’s whatever comes out of our brains.
Fargano: Lyric-wise, it’s just mouth diarrhea. Usually they put the song together and then I listen to it and I say, “OK, I’ll sing this.”

What’s the craziest story in the band’s existence?
Fargano: I keep thinking of the guy standing on the crate at Studio Itz, pouring beer on his head and like screaming at the end of our show.

What’s it like to be a band in Fresno?
Gomez: Hot.
Tozier: We have had a much different experience than most bands in Fresno. Other bands have to book gigs and venues. We don’t. We can just go out and play on the street.

Is this group something you’d like to pursue as a career?

Tozier: That’s so not likely. All of us are pretty much pursuing other things.
Asami: We are, but I am always trying to convince them to quit their day jobs.
Aron: I’d like to, if it happened. I wouldn’t mind playing music forever.
Asami: Personally, I think we could. I think this band could do almost anything it wanted to, but it’s hard to get seven people to collaborate. I was in a band that was successful enough that there were a lot of doors open to us and I think, honestly, this band is a thousand times better than that band.

Why do you say that?
Asami: This band is so unique and so much fun. There’s so much life. My personal dream for this band is to go on a bike tour, where we play all the way up to the northwest and never drive a car.

What is the most surprising aspect of being in a band?

Orblath: I’ve always been surprised by the fact that people actually dig what we do.
Tozier: In a society where we’re so plugged in and is such a consumer society, there is actually a decent number of people that still value going out and watching live music and performance.
Gomez: You might not get smacked by a horn player when you’re sitting and watching it on your computer.
Oblath: It’s more exciting to think that you might get smacked by a horn player.

Lastly, are you wearing yesterday’s chonies today?

Collectively: Yes.
Hernandez: and they stink so badly.

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